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Your Favorite Lemon Meringue Pie Recipe

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It's a big hole in my cooking, but I have never made a lemon meringue pie. Not even a lousy one. But my mom's been hankering for one recently, and I'd like to make one for her 84th birthday this week, instead of a cake. Looking through my cookbooks and on-line, I realized that I don't really know how to judge that one recipe might be better than another.

So, do any of you have a favorite lemon meringue pie recipe? I want recipes that you make and love, so please don't take time to google for one. I can do that myself, and have already. If you could include a brief explanation of why you prefer your recipe (i.e., more or less lemon than most, more or less cornstarch, a "secret" technique, etc.), it would be most helpful.

I'm not looking for what I think of as northeastern diner versions of lemon meringue pie, but that ethereal, wonderful, lighter-than-air-but-with-a-big-flavor thing your aunt or grandmother or lady down the street--or you--made or makes. Also, I'm cool on the pastry...it's the filling I need.

Thanks for your help.

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  1. I don't have the recipe in hand, but I always use the filling recipe from Fannie Farmer. Why? Because it is heavy on both lemon and cornstartch and yields the best flavor with a reliably firm texture. No weepy, runny fillings. Plenty of lemon zing.

    The key is to let the cornstarch develop by cooking long enough before adding the lemon juice and egg yolk. Again, I don't have the particulars in front of me but I have to cook it longer than they say, being sure to stir constantly and vigorously, carefully scraping into the 'corners' of the sauce pan to ensure an even texture. When it starts to feel firm, keep going. I'm sure it is possible to overcook the cornstarch mix at this stage, but I have never done so. The only pitfall I've had has been the occasional cornstarchy lump which can be avoided by stirring like crazy.

    The other key to color, flavor, and I think it adds to the firmness, is plenty of lemon zest.

    10 Replies
    1. re: BernalKC

      link to the Fannie Farmer recipe:

      http://www.post-gazette.com/food/1999...

      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

        Curious. I read this yesterday and knew it was not the recipe I use. And it does not match my directions above. Turns out the link one is from "The Fannie Farmer Baking Book" which is different. Here is my transcription [with commentary] of the one I use -- which I think is much better because it cooks the cornstarch mix first:

        - pre-baked pie shell
        - merignue topping
        - the filling:

        4Tbs corn starch
        4Tbs flour
        1/4tsp salt
        1 1/24 c sugar
        1 1/2 c water
        grated rind of 1 lemon
        1/2 c lemon juice
        2Tbs butter
        4 egg yolks, slightly beaten

        Mix the cornstarch, flour, salt, sugar and water in a saucepan.
        Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 3 minutes. [Yeah, right. Longer is better. You cannot make it thicker later. Now is the time.]
        Remove from heat.
        Stir in the lemon rind, lemon juice, and butter.
        Stir 1/2 cup of the hot mixture into the egg yolks, then stir the yolks into the remaining hot mixture.
        Cook, stirring, for another 3 minutes. [Since the eggs are in the mix now, don't mess with this time too much.]
        Let cool a bit. Spread the filling in the pie shell.
        Cover with the meringue [being sure to mush the meringue to the crust edges to make sure the meringue adheres to the crust].
        Run under the broiler until the meringue peaks are lightly browned.

        1. re: BernalKC

          who knew? :)

          thanks for the clarification!

          1. re: BernalKC

            I've found that putting the filling in while still pretty warm seems to keep the meringue from weeping. My recipe is very much like yours except I leave out the lemon zest. Prefer the taste of just the juice.

            1. re: BernalKC

              BernalKC, thanks for the Fanny Farmer recommendation. That's the one I used today and it was exactly what I was looking for. Right texture and nice and tart. We all enjoyed it. It's a keeper.

              1. re: Old Spice

                Great. Glad it worked out for you.

              2. re: BernalKC

                Thanks for the correction; however, I am using the 12th (1980) edition of the FF Cookbook and find, on page 589, that the recipe instructs that the cornstarch mixture be cooked "over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, then cook 10 minutes more, stirring frequently, until clear." The instructions continue: "Remove from the heat. Stir 1/2 cup of the hot mixture into the egg yolks, then stir the yolks into the remaining hot mixture [return to the heat] and cook, stirring, for another 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon rind, lemon juice, and butter. Let cool a bit. Spread the lemon mixture in the baked pie shell and cover with the meringue."

                This is my recipe of choice, and I've never had it fail.

                1. re: dabrar

                  Wow, that is interesting. I'm looking at the 13th edition right now and it is almost exactly the same, except the key instruction: "then cook 10 minutes more, stirring frequently, until clear" is missing! The rest of your copy matches mine. I ad libbed a bit and added my own commentary to my transcription in the other steps.

                  I started making this recipe using my mom's tattered FF. She had at least one older edition that was in pieces -- from the 30's as I recall. My first copy of FF is an old, tattered, falling apart book that I keep in my basement for archaeological curiosity... and somewhere in that history I learned to cook the cornstarch mixture for a good long time before adding the eggs.

                  One wonders why they altered the recipe in the 13th edition?

                  1. re: BernalKC

                    I made my first attempt at LMP, used the FF 13th edition. It is very good Lemon soup Meringue. Since then I read here the cooking the cornstarch to long will make it thin out. I cooked the corn starch, flour, water salt, what ever the recipe said for at least 10 minutes more. Then it didn't seem thick enough, continued cooking for about 10-15 in a double boiler. The reason for this is. I didn't, still don't know how thick it should be.
                    thank you

            2. re: BernalKC

              It's been my experience that what really gives a lemon yellow color is the egg yolks.

              I have a question -- I have seen a couple recipes using milk or cream, but most are water-based. I am not sure if I've ever had a dairy lemon meringue pie. Any thoughts?

              I think about 1/2 c lemon juice (or more) is needed for a lemony flavor. I definitely agree that lemon zest is important. I once followed Dorie Greenspan's tip for lemon curd and ground the zest with sugar in the food processor. I think it worked nicely, if you want an extra step.

            3. Well, I use Jello lemon pudding (the kind that must be cooked, not instant). It calls for sugar and egg yolk, but I use fresh lemon juice in place of about 2 -3 tablespoons of the water called for. Also I add some finely grated peel from the same lemon.
              I suspect the Jello mix is mainly cornstarch anyway. It works fine.

              1. Funny lemon meringue story: I worked with a waitress years ago and we got into a conversation about lemon meringue pie. She told me that when she first got married and didn't know how to cook, her new husband requested the pie, so she made hm one. All went well with the filling, but she didn't get the concept of meringue and simply spread raw egg white, mixed with a little sugar, on top of the pie, then popped in into the oven to brown.
                Must have been a culinary delight!

                Glad you got you recipe.

                1 Reply
                1. re: bushwickgirl

                  My mom had a good lemon meringue pie story, too. She was an outrageously good baker, and lemon meringue pies were one of her specialties. She worked with a much younger woman who had just gotten married. This young lady was going to her inlaws' for dinner, and she wanted to impress them, so she paid my mother to make her a lemon meringue pie to take along.

                  But of course...she passed the pie off as hers. The family was all knocked out, and requested another pie next time she visited. So after that, for two or three years, my mother would make her another lemon meringue pie every time she got together with the inlaws, who continued to be impressed with the baking skills of the new member of the family.

                  You know where this is going...my mom eventually decided to retire and move 2,000 miles away. I have always wondered what this woman told her inlaws about the sudden disappearance of their lemon meringue pies. Selective amnesia, perhaps? A new-found allergy to lemons?

                2. Not exactly an answer for your question, but a plea for help from experts here, with the ff filling that I just made but can't get it to thicken enough. I have cooked and cooked it (it thickened but didn't ever get clear. After about half an hour of this I incorporated the eggs but it is still runny. I wonder if I can put it into a double boiler and cook the filling some more to thicken it, or is it too late?? Roz

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: RozHunter

                    The pie filling will never become "clear" -- it is thick and yellow. Unless you've made a mistake with the ingredients or method of cooking, it will thicken *a lot* when it is cooled/chilled.

                    1. re: blue room

                      thank you for that blue room still I wonder how to salvage the filling! would recooking work, or adding a really thick tapioca pudding that I could concoct?

                    2. re: RozHunter

                      Did your recipe call for cooking the cornstarch and water (and zest) first, like the one I posted above? If so, the key is to develop and thicken that base first, before adding the lemon or egg.

                      Once you add the egg, you really don't want to overcook it. If you do, and the consistency is not right, its probably "broken" because the eggs have clotted. The best you'd be able to do in that case is to beat the mixture - probably with a mixer - to get it back to an even texture. Cooking more probably won't help.

                      1. re: BernalKC

                        Thank you Bernal and Jenscats5, yes I followed the Fannie Farmer recipe to a t. The base did thicken, but not as much as it needs to and I beat and cooked for a very long time. I was thinking I could cook it some more in a double boiler so as not to burn it, or perhaps make a really thick tapioca pudding and fold it in. Another alternative is to make some whipped cream and fold that in, which is how I used to make lemon meringue pie, with an additional layer of crust! I am still puzzled as to why the filling didn't thicken for me, to the extent needed. Perhaps it is because I live at c. 5200 ft elevation, in Albuquerque NM.

                        1. re: RozHunter

                          Elevation? Huh. I'd suspect variability in the lemon juice acidity and sweetness. The good thing about that recipe is that it uses a lot of lemon, but it can also depend more on the lemon juice as a result. But I guess a slightly different boiling point could make a difference too.

                          1. re: BernalKC

                            Yes, I try to compensate for the elevation and lower boiling point when I think it matters. I cooked that filling for a good half hour and it still didn't get thick enough. I ended up making a small batch of tapioca and blending it in, which did make it thicker. I put on the meringue and browned it (actually I burned it, just not doing anything right yesterday it seems!) Then I refrigerated it over night and now it looks good but I haven't cut into it yet. After the gym today I will.

                    3. While this may or may not help, my grandmother made a much loved lemon-whipped-cream pie.....shortbread-type crust (not sure if store bought or not), 2 packages LEM filling and whipped cream on top. My favorite!

                      1. Bon Appetit did a lime and blackberry Italian meringue pie -- I love it, and have also done a lemon meringue pie based off of the recipe: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/201...

                        Here's another for lemon meringue blueberry pie: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/200...

                        1. I made my first attempt at LMP, used the FF 13th edition. It is very good Lemon soup Meringue. Since then I read here that cooking the cornstarch too long will make it thin out. I cooked the corn starch, flour, water salt, what ever the recipe said for at least 10 minutes. Then it didn't seem thick enough, continued cooking for about 10-15 in a double boiler. The reason for this is- I didn't, still don't know how thick it should be. Could some one tell me what my goal is? Thank you, I'm obsessed with makind this pie.
                          thank you

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: taluga

                            I didn't know there was a point where the cornstarch mix would thin out. I guess I never reached that point.

                            My recollection is that the mixture gets thick and you think you might be done, but if you cook a bit longer it gets thicker - almost to a point of clumping on the spoon and being hard to keep an even texture. At that point I add the lemon and stir vigorously.

                            1. re: BernalKC

                              Thank you, now I will know what look for, I'll try again, mine never got much thicker than heavy cream.

                          2. I use either the recipe right on the Argo Cornstarch box
                            http://www.argostarch.com/recipe_deta...

                            or Alton Brown's
                            http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/al...

                            Both have a thick, translucent filling with some pretty-intense lemon flavor, because they both have the zest.

                            My grandfather was a hard-core lemon pie enthusiast -- it's bittersweet that my lemon pie was one of the last things he asked for.

                            1. I make one that uses sweetened condensed milk, like key lime pie. Totally delicious.